I just read about an amazing woman, but only after her death. Her name was Anne Heyman and she had a vision to save Rwandan orphans by creating youth villages akin to the ones in Israel that took in all the Jewish children orphaned by the Holocaust.
When the village for orphans opened in 2008, a long line of teenagers, alone and shattered, stood in the blazing sun holding paper bags containing all their possessions. Entire families of some had been wiped out, and they had no photographs. Some did not know their birthdays, or even what their real names were.
She built the village of 32 houses high up on a hill “because children need to see far to go far,” said Heyman.
What impresses me about her work is that she embraced more than just the children, and spread the love and philanthropy in a pay-it-forward way. The youth that first arrived were those orphaned by the genocide in 1994, but later children of parents who had died of AIDS began to arrive. Soon, other vulnerable children were also taken in.
Ethiopian Jews who had grown up at a youth camp in Israel were the first counselors. Housemothers were hired locally to make the houses into homes, often the first the youths had known. Many of the women had lost their husbands and children to genocide.
In a nod to her inspiration, she named the camp, Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. “Agahozo” is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “a place where tears are dried” and Shalom is Hebrew for peace.
Although she died a premature death (age 52), her work will outlive her. And that’s a beautiful thing.